What’s in a career?

As I’m about to embark on the next phase of my career, I recently stopped to reflect on whether the expectations for structured career path way actually do us more harm than good.
For the longest time I had visions of a linear career track. I expected that I would work my way up through a structured pathway moving through various levels of seniority within a given functional specialty on my way to an eventual retirement.

Fast forward 15 years and my career track has taken anything but a linear pathway. Not only have I moved across industries but I’ve also moved across different functional areas, different specialties and different roles across a variety of different levels on my journey through life.

I’ve deliberately taken a pathway that’s provided me with the most interesting set of opportunities as opposed to a pathway that has necessarily been the most lucrative for me. As a result it’s probably fair to say that I am behind my more career focused peers who pursued with an eagle eye a straight path in climbing the corporate ladder.

However being prepared to take and make several different moves outside the scope of a more traditional career path has not only made me a better business leader, but I’d say it’s also significantly added to my set of life experiences and made my working life far more interesting enjoyable and tolerable than may have otherwise been the case.

As a result of my willingness to experiment I’ve been able to work on complex financial transactions manage the introduction of a new technology product work on a start up adventure evaluate a variety of different early-stage businesses and do it all within the scope of one career track.

In fact one could argue that this willingness to embrace a lot of different experiences has in fact opened up my next opportunity which is likely the start for me to really cashing in on my set of diverse experiences thus far.

All of which is to question how important should a linear career path be to any individual and how fixated do you need to be on pursuing that path with an objective of fast tracking your own prospects of promotion and advancement.

I believe that taking such a narrowly focused view may really start to shortchange you on life.  While you may get to your end career destination faster and make bank a whole lot sooner, how many of us really look back on our retirement and say wow I was really the most ace accountant to ever walk this earth or getting to that senior director spot at age 30 was a real highlight of my life.

Of course that’s nonsense. Far more likely you’ll reflect back at the end of your time on a journey that was rich diverse and that offered you the ability to extract meaningful experiences provide and make meaningful contributions and afford a quality-of-life and a lifestyle that helped put everything into perspective.

So as I sit here reflecting on the next phase of my career journey and where is likely to take me I’ve been telling myself to continue to stay true to the maxims that have really driven what’s been around the nontraditional career path and career journey thus far and that is to be open to opportunity however nontraditional it may appear to be and open to new experiences and new horizons that may not appear to make a lot of sense and may take me away from the path that is more beaten-down and more traditional.

This is particularly the case for me given I have a high level of conviction that I’m realistically in the last decade of my formal career track.  Where things may go from here I have no idea and it’s exciting to even ponder what opportunities may arise over this next decade and what that’s likely to lead to however given the good financial fortune that we’ve been blessed with and the opportunities that lie ahead I can’t realistically see myself engaged in a traditional formal career path for any time beyond the next 10 years.

That being said I’m determined to pursue whatever time I have left in the workforce the same way that I have done so over the last decade which is to be open to whatever new nontraditional opportunities that may present themselves.
As my first career mentor was prone to say, we each only walk this way once. Taking the time to pursue interesting intellectual opportunities and a diverse set of experiences while still being able to provide for your family should be something that’s more encouraged and that we can all pursue without fear. For at the end of the day it’s highly unlikely that any of us will sit back and think how fortunate we were that our career journey was a symmetrical, steady and well-balanced one.

 

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